The Red Wings' Darren Eliot: A TV Hockey Guy Who Watches His Verbal Ps And Qs
If the National Hockey League’s All-Star Skills Competition included a vocabulary event, Darren Eliot could score a win.
His command of the language is evident during Fox Sports Detroit coverage of the Red Wings. Among on-air sports analysts, Eliot’s a verbal finesse player.
Credit his time at Cornell, where he was admitted to the Sphinx Head Society and Red Key Society while achieving distinction as an All-American goaltender for the school team. (The necessary tough-guy credibility comes from his willingness to defend the goal against pucks flying at up to 100 mph.)
Eliot, who also does college hockey coverage for Fox (FSD), tended goal for the Wings, the Sabres and the Kings and was on Team Canada in the 1984 Olympics. Today, in addition to his TV analyst work, the 51-year-old Eliot is director of programing and communications for the Farmington Hills-based Suburban Sports Group. That job that brought him, his wife, and three children back to Detroit from Georgia, where he worked for the former Atlanta Thrashers.
We spoke with Eliot by phone this week.
— Rebecca Powers
Q: Your game analyses are peppered with such words as "frenetic" and "cavalier" in addition to the proper use of "like" and "as." Did a teacher or professor drill vocabulary and grammar into your head?
A: I wrote for SI.com for over a decade. I always fancied myself as a writer and actually had a minor in communications at Cornell [with a major in economics].
Q: Many people have come to see a love of words and athletic affection as being mutually exclusive. Does the meathead stereotype bother you?
A: I always took it seriously that athletes can speak well.
I can speak like the locker-room guys but I don’t have to talk like that all the time. I like to have fun with language. You’re a color analyst — and you use colorful language.
Look at Mickey Redmond. I love how he uses colorful language. It’s colloquialisms and things that are comfortable to people but they’re not clichés, they’re Mickey Redmond.
Q: What are your least-favorite sports clichés?
A: “Talk to me,” as an interviewer. Nobody asks a question anymore to elicit an answer. “Talk to me about … .” That’s too lazy.
In our game right now, what used to be called screening the goalie is now taking away his eyes. Or there’s getting in the shooting lanes (trying to block the puck.) I’ve kind of tracked how things evolved in terms of what we talk about. Outnumbered at the plan of attack — seriously? Is that helping the audience?
Q: Are there any sportscasters or analysts you admire or try to emulate?
A: Johnny Miller [NBC golf analyst] for his insight and candor. In our game, I always liked John Davidson, who’s now president of the Columbus Blue Jackets. When he was with the Rangers and he was excellent at seeming friendly but being knowledgeable. A guy in our game, Daryl Reaugh with the Dallas Stars and NBC, is a wordsmith.
Q: How do you emphasize language, reading and writing to your children [who will all be in high school at Grosse Pointe South next fall]?
A: We read to them when they were younger. With technology, it’s a battle with any parent to get them to love books. Down South, they had a [summer] reading list. We made sure they stuck to that and actually did read the book and didn’t watch the movie.
Q: You seem very at ease and even pleased to be on camera. You won two Emmys while with the Thrashers. How did you make the transition from player to paid spectator?
A: I was here with the Detroit Vipers. That’s how I got into broadcasting. I was able to get on air and I’m sure I was awful. You just kind of keep working at it.
I’ve had people say I’m smirking. I’m not smirking. I’m having a good time. We’re here to have a good time, entertain and educate.
Q: Viewers tend to assume broadcasters are fans of the team they cover. Is that true or do you strive for objectivity?
A: You can’t say this guy is awful, this is terrible, the referee stinks. You have to show what could have been done better or differently. For every mistake or play that didn’t go your team’s way, the opposition probably did something well and you have to point out both. If somebody’s not doing something, that’s pretty obvious, especially in a market like this. In breaking games down, you can always show what happened before the play that was obvious to everybody. Absolutely you want them to win. That’s more fun for everybody, including the broadcasters. But there’s always a way to deliver the full picture.
Q: You grew up a Wings fan in Windsor, Ontario?
A: I did. Roger Crozier was my favorite goaltender. When he went to Buffalo, so did my allegiances.
Q: Your SI.com profile said you like writing short-form fiction. Do you still write?
A: I write for the publication I’m in charge of — Mihockeymag and mihockeynow.com — but I haven’t written anything that would be considered outside of the hockey realm in a few years.
Q: You’re a Bob Dylan fan. Do you have any songs or phase of his career that you particularly like?
A: I caught on to his early stuff later on because it wasn’t age-wise relevant to me. I picked it up more with the ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ era. From there, I followed him. His career arc has been spectacular.
Q: You were in Cornell’s Sphinx Head [honor] Society. Is it like the Yale Skull and Bones secret society?
A: I went to a couple of meetings and I never really was sure. It was more that they were trying to get people across the spectrum from athletes to academics. The Red Key Society was something I was more proud of and more into because it was a bunch of student athletes who excelled both on and off the ice kind of thing.
Q: Ken Dryden, a former NHL goalie who also went to Cornell, served in the Canadian Parliament and ran the Toronto Maple Leafs. Do you plan to follow his career path?
A: I don’t think so in terms of career path. I’ve met him several times. He’s a tremendous writer. His book “The Game” is a classic. I just read an article he wrote about concussions in sports.
As for politics, no. I can’t even get out of the politics of youth hockey. I can’t even navigate those very well.
Q: Who chooses your on-air wardrobe? (I’m thinking about that skinny purple tie you wore for game seven against the Ducks.)
A: I do.
Q: What are your thoughts as Detroit begins playing Chicago in round two?
A: The Wings seem to have that extra little it factor that’s hard to describe but easy to recognize. When they need to play their best, they have. With a lot of young players and leaders Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Jimmy Howard and Kronwall playing so well … that gives them a chance in this series against a team that’s deeper, better and more experienced throughout their lineup. They’re the underdogs, certainly, but there’s a chance.
(Eliot is part of FSD’s post-game coverage of the Red Wings-Blackhawks games, broadcast on NBCSN and CBC.)